If you’ve struggled to succeed with intermittent fasting or felt like intermittent fasting is not working for you, there are a few tweaks you can make to get the biggest benefits. A fasting expert reveals her top tips on intermittent fasting for women.
You’ve likely heard about intermittent fasting (IF)… and you may even have some strong opinions on it. Maybe you’re a complete newbie or maybe you’ve tried it once or twice without much success. Or worse, perhaps you’ve struggled with a few not-so-nice side effects that made you swear off this eating style for good. No matter the case, you’ll definitely want to keep reading, because you may have been doing intermittent fasting all wrong.
Mindy Pelz, DC, holistic health practitioner, fasting expert, and author of the newly released book Fast Like a Girl addresses some common myths about fasting before sharing her can’t-miss intermittent fasting tips that’ll help all women thrive.
Is Intermittent Fasting Bad for Women?
Intermittent fasting can get a bad rap, but that’s largely due to misconceptions or not finding the right eating pattern for your body, rather than the science behind the practice. “It’s really important to understand that fasting isn’t a diet. It’s not calorie-counting; it’s time restriction. It’s not working against your biology; it’s a healing experience your body goes through,” Dr. Pelz clarifies. “And if you think fasting is a fad, that’s like saying sleeping is a fad.”
While IF takes on different forms, Dr. Pelz’s general take on it entails going 12 to 16 hours without food. “The idea is that going at least 12 hours without food allows the body to switch into fat-burning metabolism,” she shares. Some people prefer different fasting regimens—such as alternate-day fasting, or doing a water fast for up to 72 hours—which will yield different effects and benefits. (That is, of course, if you find that these variations are compatible with your body and you don’t deprive yourself of vital nutrients.)
Another major misconception: Intermittent fasting is bad for women. “Everyone can benefit from fasting,” Dr. Pelz explains. But women in particular must heed a few essential tips and follow certain patterns to ensure a successful fasting regimen; what might work for one woman’s brother or partner is unlikely to fit her own unique needs.
Moreover, it’s worth noting that the benefits of fasting aren’t restricted to losing weight or trimming your waistline. “Fasting isn’t optional if you want longevity and better metabolic health,” says Dr. Pelz. A growing body of research backs this up, demonstrating that intermittent and periodic fasting can be safe to improve longevity and healthspan with little or no adverse symptoms—so long as you fast the right way.
6 Must-Know Intermittent Fasting Tips for Women
Although Dr. Pelz literally wrote a book on fasting for women, she shares a few key highlights that women should know. Whether you’re a tried-and-true female faster or merely curious about this time-restricted eating practice for its variety of promising benefits, feast your eyes on the illuminating tips and tricks below.
1. Know Your Why
Before you kick off a fasting regimen, get clear about why you want to start in the first place. Dr. Pelz ticks off a few of the key benefits of intermittent fasting—including but not limited to weight loss, healthy aging, brain metabolism, and women’s hormonal balance. Once you have a solid goal in mind, it’ll be easier to remain inspired and stay the course, especially if things get a bit uncomfortable. In fact, Dr. Pelz says some level of discomfort is normal. (Note: Discomfort and deprivation aren’t interchangeable terms here.)
“Move your eating window to a place of discomfort so your body can adapt,” she advises. “If you allow yourself to be uncomfortable, your body gets stronger and burns more fat.” In other words, try not to retreat when the first signs of fight-or-flight mode kick in. They could very well signal that your body is starting to adjust.
2. Start Slowly
Dr. Pelz recommends women follow a fasting window of 13 to 15 hours, but if that seems unrealistic for you to start, take things one step (or one hour) at a time. She likens IF to an athlete’s regimen. “Think of it like training for a marathon; you wouldn’t go from 0 to 10 miles right away,” she shares. Instead, try moving breakfast back by 30 minutes for a few days, then incrementally building up your tolerance until you hit that 13-hour mark. “Unlike any other diet you’ve ever done in your life, fasting gets easier the more you do it,” Dr. Pelz reassures us.
3. Align Fasting Windows with Your Monthly Cycles
This is perhaps the most important intermittent fasting tip for women. As Dr. Pelz explains, all women—particularly those who menstruate—have to consider where their hormones are at a given time in order to fast with success. The key ones to be mindful of are estrogen and progesterone.
“Estrogen loves fasting, [whereas] progesterone wants you to keep glucose higher and is susceptible to cortisol surges,” she explains. Therefore, Dr. Pelz recommends leaning into longer fasts, as tolerated, when estrogen builds—between day one of your cycle and when it peaks—between days 10 and 16.
Conversely, progesterone levels rise a week before menstruation. During this time, she advises against any fasting windows longer than 15 hours, as it can trigger hormonal imbalances.
Perimenopausal women have it a bit harder, Dr. Pelz continues, as they “don’t know when their cycle is coming or going.” Above all, she advises getting extra familiar with your hormones and symptoms, and adjusting your IF protocols from there. For instance, “If you’re spotting, it’s time to help progesterone out by stopping fasting and eating more carbs. If you’re unusually hungry in the morning, progesterone is coming in,” she says.
FYI: Fast Like a Girl comes with a free cycle-tracking app, which can advise you on the best fasting windows for you throughout the month.
4. Be Mindful of Fasting with Thyroid Imbalances
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in eight women will develop thyroid problems in her lifetime. Although she doesn’t advocate for restricting calories (and reiterates that IF restricts time instead), Dr. Pelz notes that inadvertently cutting calories while intermittent fasting can be harmful if you have a thyroid imbalance. “Women who eat one meal a day can’t get enough calories in to help the thyroid,” she explains.
With that said, intermittent fasting isn’t out of the question if you have hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. In fact, Dr. Pelz points out a key misconception about fasting in terms of thyroid health. “When fasting, T3 (the bioavailable version of thyroid hormone) goes down. But what isn’t discussed is that studies show that T3 actually doubles when going from fasted to fed,” she shares.
In sum, IF can work for women with thyroid conditions. However, they should be especially careful to get enough calories in during their eating window and clear this dietary protocol with a healthcare practitioner first.
5. Replenish Your Body with Minerals and Amino Acids
Some women complain about hair loss while fasting. However, Dr. Pelz notes that IF isn’t the root cause of it: mineral deficiency is. “When fasting, you’re putting yourself in a state of mild depletion. Our soil is also so deficient in minerals, so when you fast, you accentuate that deficiency,” she explains.
To reduce your risk for hair loss and nutrient imbalances, she suggests prioritizing magnesium and potassium in particular. (Tip: Get these minerals in during your fasting window to alleviate any symptoms.) In addition, she recommends adding amino acids to your regimen. “We’re seeing that aminos are precursors to hormones and neurotransmitters, especially if you’re plant-based or vegan. Plus, the quality of animal products are going down,” Dr. Pelz continues. “Adding them in will ensure that hormones work.”
Struggling to get in the nutrients you need? Try HUM’s Base Control multivitamin.
6. Allow Yourself to Have Fasted Snacks
If you’re still uncomfortable with going a full 13+ hours without food, Dr. Pelz says that you can use specific fasted snacks as “training wheels” until you acclimate. “You can use them in the beginning to get comfortably into the IF window; then, let them go,” she advises.
So… what counts as a valid fasted snack, exactly? She prioritizes high-fat foods, including:
- MCT oil (in coffee or tea)
- raw nut butters
- bone broth
“If you eat a ‘fat bomb,’ you’ll get the benefits of fasting and kill hunger, allowing you to fast longer,” she explains. And don’t worry about breaking your fast with these snacks, either. “If the food doesn’t raise your blood sugar, it won’t take you out of a fasted state,” she clarifies.